Evangelical Theological Society
The most intense and heated exchange I’ve ever seen in the church was at an Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) conference where someone was delivering a paper on Bible translations. ETS is an organization where those who believe in both the Trinity and Inerrancy of Scripture come together, fellowship, deliver papers, and discuss the most pressing theological issues of the day. I was quite taken aback by the palpable tension in the room as the presenter delivered his paper. I neither had any skin in this game nor thought anyone else did. But when an updated version of the NIV came out, you would think the Antichrist was giving the paper. I hate to admit it, but it was quite entertaining.
The discouraging thing is that this organization is built around the idea of unity and diversity. Its primary goal is to foster an iron-sharpening-iron atmosphere. Now, I am not saying that ETS is not accomplishing this goal, by and large, but this does serve as a good illustration for my thoughts.
My Broken Reformed Heart
There was another time when I wrote an email inviting a certain professor to come teach a course on the history of Reformed theology at the Credo House for Credo Courses. As you may know, it is my goal to get the greatest teachers in the world to teach the greatest subjects and make them available to everyone. I was really excited about securing this gentleman. I was brokenhearted when I received his response informing me that he would never step foot in the Credo House as it allows for heretical teaching. He also called me a few choice words and expressed disgust at the whole evangelical Calvinist movement. I will not tell you who this was, but, I promise, many of you know him. Here I was, personally, a Calvinist receiving this kind of response. Why? Because I allow non-Calvinists to blog on my blog and teach at the Credo House. I was disillusioned.
The Dogs of the Closest Breed
In my seminary days, I had a professor who shared a thought that has stayed with me ever since. He expressed, “The dogs of the closest breeds fight the most.” While I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this statement when it comes to canines, I’ve observed this dynamic within the Christian church. It seems that Christians who share very similar theological beliefs often engage in intense conflicts. It’s remarkable how much energy is sometimes expended on criticizing those who agree with us on almost everything, but have minor differences, such as variations in Bible translations, nuanced points of Calvinism, perspectives on the age of the Earth, differing opinions on the timing of the rapture, or other minor theological details.
We see this in families too. Brothers and sisters fight more than cousins, cousins fight more than distant relatives, and relatives fight more than acquaintances. We have the most gentleness and respect for those who don’t even know.
Credo House Woes
When I started the Credo House coffee shop, I wanted it to be a place where Christians of like minds could come together, have fellowship, and discuss the great truths of our faith over a Luther Latte at the Cappadocian Bar. I wanted to do this in a context, where it do not matter what denomination you belong to, as long as you had Christ right, you could find a great level of comfort there.
As I was in the initial stages of planning, a Christian leader here in Oklahoma, said to me that I had enough throw battle. I asked him why and he told me that churches, especially in Oklahoma, we’re too territorial. Any given church pastor would probably not know the other pastor across the street, and certainly wouldn’t think to get together and strategize how to make Christ more known in the city with him. This broke my heart.
Why Does this Happen?
I know that the above be examples provide a broad range of issues, some of which are not totally related. However, with regard to human nature and our tendency to shun those who are closest to us, here are some possible reasons:
1. The Quest for Individual Identity?
I read this answer somewhere: “As humans, we have an inherent need to distinguish ourselves, to carve out our unique identity. In environments where similarities abound, even minor differences become amplified. No matter how minute, these differences give us a sense of individuality, setting us apart from the collective.”
2. The Fear of Homogenization:
Here is another possible answer: “When surrounded by like-minded individuals, there’s a lurking fear of being absorbed into the collective. Standing our ground on minor differences becomes a way to resist this homogenization, ensuring our voice remains distinct.”
This is quite interesting and carries a lot of explanatory value for some things. It is like the phenomenon where you have a musical band you like until it gets too popular. Once everyone else likes it, it becomes blasé or unoriginal. When there is too much agreement, we will find a way to disagree if for nothing else, to distinguish ourselves.
(I think the first and the second may be just saying the same thing a different way, but I am too lazy to figure it out or combine them right now.)
3. The Security of Familiar Territory:
Here is yet another option I found: “It’s easier to debate nuances with someone who shares your foundational beliefs than to challenge an entirely opposing viewpoint. Engaging in disputes over familiar territory feels safer, more controlled, and less threatening.”
I do like this one. It is just too much work to change an entire worldview, so we spend our energy attempting to tweak the worldview of someone who, by and large, shares our convictions.
4. Insecurity and Overcompensation:
Insecure about certain beliefs or opinions, we might overemphasize them. This makes sense. We often amplify our stance, hoping enthusiasm can compensate for doubt. That is why when someone causes another to lose their cool during a debate, that someone has won the debate. I’ve found that insecurity brings about the vitriol of human nature. When we don’t know what we’re talking about or are unsure, we pound the pulpit harder, as if that makes a difference.
However, this has some problems. While this is most certainly true in the broader context of life, I don’t see it applying to those whom we know more readily. We always do this when we are insecure.
Or maybe we are just perfectionists. Maybe we just don’t care about what people close to us think of us. Or maybe this infighting is an ironic act of endearment.
Since I apparently haven’t figured this one out, and am just wondering out loud, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Here are a few questions for you.
- Do you observe this in the church?
- Why do you think we do this?
- What can be done about it?